Tag Archives: Computing Heritage

Bletchley Park’s rebirth and why it matters

Twenty five years ago, Bletchley Park was facing demolition. Last month’s opening of the newly restored Block C by the Duchess of Cambridge — including the discovery that her grandmother Valerie Glassborow had worked as a duty officer and managed the interception of enemy signals for decryption at Bletchley — cements its reversal of fortune.
Photos copyright Shaun Armstrong

Now reborn as one of England’s most evocative museums, Bletchley Park is a fitting place of pilgrimage for both history and technology fans alike. The extraordinary code-breaking feats that took place in its spartan wooden huts were crucial to the Allied victory, and helped lay the foundations for the computer age. We were honoured to have been invited to create this new film for the visitors centre:

Bletchley Park is where Alan Turing’s theories were first put into practice, in the Bombe machines used to break Enigma, operated by women like 93 year old veteran and grandmother of one of our colleagues in Google London, Jean Valentine. It was also home to Colossus, the world’s first electronic programmable computer.

As important as what was achieved at Bletchley Park are the lessons we can learn from the way it was done.

Bletchley Park was a melting pot of brilliant minds set free by an atmosphere of tolerance. Societal norms were swept aside because of extreme need and circumstances. What mattered was what a person could do — not their gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin or any supposed eccentricity. By removing these artificial constraints, Bletchley Park brought out the best in the fullest range of talent.

In this sense, Bletchley’s codebreaking success came not in spite of people’s differences, but because of them. It’s a compelling role model for the power of diversity that resonates still today.

Overall, at Bletchley Park thousands of talented people, more than half women, made heroic contributions that were kept secret until the 1970s. To borrow Keira Knightley’s line playing code breaker Joan Clarke in upcoming movie “The Imitation Game”: “Sometimes it’s the people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things no one can imagine.”

Google has long championed saving Bletchley Park together with Dr. Sue Black, Stephen Fry, Sir John Scarlett and many others. We’ve donated money, hosted events, created videos to help preserve and promote its story, including this . But nothing beats the experience of visiting this hallowed place in person — it’s just 45 minutes by train from London Euston — do go if you can. We promise you will be inspired by these technical heroes and early founders of our industry.

Inspiring students about Poland’s great computing heritage

Behind every computing breakthrough, there’s a story of the people who made it happen. Earlier this month, the spotlight shone on Poland’s computer pioneers with the launch of the educational project “XYZ — The history of computing in Poland”.

Led by the Center for Citizenship Education in collaboration with Google, the project seeks to raise awareness of Poland’s computing heroes among young people, as well as use them to illustrate the value of virtues such as ingenuity, curiosity and cooperation.

Materials produced so far include a timline, online videos, and posters highlighting key Poles and their achievements — from Abraham Stern’s mechanical calculators in the early 19th century, to Leon Lukaszewicz’s XYZ computer in 1958, to the team who built the K-202, Poland’s first computer with integrated circuits, in the 1970s. Coming soon are lesson plans and contests to make it easier for Polish educators to use these stories of local innovators to inspire their students.

The project was launched in fitting style at the University of Warsaw, where young innovators showcased their own work surrounded by posters of Polish computing heroes to dignitaries including Vint Cerf, one of the “fathers” of the Internet.

Students meet "Father of the Internet" Vint Cerf
We’re proud to support this initiative and hope it helps inspire the next generation of Polish computer scientists to similarly great heights.